How to build a healthy relationship
Relationships counsellor Dale Curd offers tips on ensuring your relationship is healthy—before it's too late
Q: Yet another couple we know is getting divorced. It’s scary for me because they seemed so happy. How can my husband and I make sure we don’t become a statistic?
A: Yes, scary indeed. With a national divorce rate of 52% it certainly appears that marriage is under siege in Canada. It’s great that you are asking the question now. Sadly, for most couples, this question only appears on their radar screen when they’re already plummeting toward the ground. I’ll risk being obvious to say that relationships are hard, hard work. No other aspect of our lives has us face the truth of who we are quite like a relationship. The more intimate the relationship, the deeper the personal truth we must face. Since a relationship is the process of relating with other human beings, relating implies that I have to open up and constantly grow my awareness of who I am.
Openness and a willingness to grow are crucial to building and deepening a relationship. Both partners must also be willing to stretch themselves beyond their familiar comfort zones to learn who they are and what they are really bringing into the relationship. In this way, relationships build through a continuous circle of giving and receiving. Relationships also deepen through alignment around shared values and principles rather than agreements on positions. You may disagree with your husband on the details of how you live your life together, but be aligned on the fundamental values of who you both are as people.
I have been a statistic—twice. And what I’ve gained through the pain of divorce is an understanding of how to build a strong relationship. Like many other Canadians, I received an education in sexual physiology, but no information on how to form a healthy, fulfilling relationship with another person. I was also under the false belief that romantic love (like the type experienced early in a relationship) was the goal and the only measure of whether my relationship was a success. Now I know that relationships have stages, and romantic love is merely one experience in the total universe of love between two people.
I paint all of this for you because it’s time to begin asking the same questions about your relationship. Not becoming a statistic involves openness; willpower; hard, hard work; and, most important, a vision of who you are for each other. Trust me when I say your husband likely wants the same picture as you. For while most men seem tough and closed and resist talking about their relationship, we all strive to love deeply and be loved. Here are some tried and true tips for building a deep and connective relationship:
1. Make time for each other: an uninterrupted hour every week builds closeness.
2. Practice being open with each other by sharing your thoughts, feelings, needs and wants.
3. Commit to a set of ground rules for navigating conflicts in your relationship.
4. Get support outside your relationship to help you grow personally.
5. Love your partner in the ways they express love to you, and you will both feel loved
Dale Curd is a counsellor and one of Canada's leading authorities on men's issues. He works in private practice in Toronto and speaks internationally on men and the male perspective.
Web exclusive: March 2010